May 2013

Silent Avenger Becoming a Pleasant Offensive Surprise

James Loney

I now call him the “Silent Avenger”. On a Tampa Bay Rays team already filled with persona’s like “Tatman”, “Super Sam” and even “Wolverine”, Rays First Baseman James Loney has been one of those great players who comes out of nowhere and makes this team better immediately.

toronto-blue-jays-v-tampa-20130506-180616-029Playing a position that embodies power and defensive responsibility, Loney has become not that iconic 1B that smashes the ball into an oblong shape on its way to the cheap seats, but has become a hitting machine producing needed single and run producing opportunities that also have brought the Rays back to the .500 mark for the first time since April 7th. Sure Loney is not the only reason this team has rebounded from their April funk, but he is one of those shining examples of a player brought in with question marks and wonder as to what role he will ultimately play on this team’s rise towards a post season berth.

All Loney has done is be a stopgap defender at the corner who has committed only a solo error in 259 total chances this season. But lost in that vital fact is the number of errors his glove has erased due to his versatility and flexibility at the First Base bag. But that is only 1 dimension of the Loney story as he has again found his hitting stroke since coming to the Rays at one point this week reaching the summit of the American League Batting Average pile along side Detroit Tiger Miguel Cabrera.

James LoneyLoney currently heading into Sunday’s contest is 3rd among all MLB players in batting average (.371) behind Cabrera (.376) and Brewers OF Carlos Gomez (.374). He also shares another very vital distinction in the A L with Oakland A’s INF Jed Lowrie of 7 3-hit games this season which all transpired within 11 starts between April 17th and May 5th. Loney has not only shown the potential to produce for the Rays, he is doing it on a club once thought of as weak and full of holes offensively but has been one of those key linchpins to the Rays recent run explosions that has seen them creep from the bottom of the AL Team hitting stats.

Sure Loney (.959) might not have the Rays top OPS ranking which currently belongs to long-ball artist Evan Longoria (1.009), but he does have 39 hits in his 35 games as well as leading the Rays in doubles (11, tied for 7th in the AL). OBP (.426 which is 4th in the AL) and is second to Longo (.609) in Slugging Percentage (.533). Loney has been one of those pleasant surprises on a team that most thought would be hard pressed to produce runs much less victories this season after their horrific April start.

201304062129773759188-p2Want to know why the recent hitting surge of Loney is so impressive? Over his last 23 contests (17 starts) Loney leads the MLB with a .453 average with 2 HR,15 RBI and 9 doubles. But what is extremely impressive is his stat of only 4 strikeouts during this span that saw his average rise to over 200 points from its .167 spot on April 16th. Fangraphs also produced a fun fact that 33% of Loney’s hits this season have been line drives, the highest percentage in the MLB where the MLB average is 20.2 percent.

Amazingly enough Loney who is a left-handed hitter has produced a .529 average against Southpaws this season which should bode well for him as the Rays will be facing a lot of left-handed hurlers over the next week. Add on the nice stat of Loney sparking a .424 average with runners in scoring position and you get a player who is helping the team tremendously by slicing and dicing up hitting from both side of the pitching rubber. Loney is also boasting an impressive .337 average against right-handers so far this season.

And how rare was that Home Run by Loney last night against the San Diego Padres? The last time Loney deposited an offering in the his home stadium cheaps seats was September 17, 2011 in Dodger Stadium.

James Loney, Joe MaddonLoney has hit 8 HR on the road between those dates. Loney on May 9th also became only the 4th Rays player ever to be on the top tier of the AL in hitting with teammate Matt Joyce last doing it in 2011. Combine that with the pure fact Loney has produced back-to-back 3-hit performances on multiple occasions this season and you can see how he has transformed into a much needed silent avenger for the Rays.

Want one last reason to think Loney is having one of those dream seasons so many seem to have when they pull on a Rays jersey. Consider Loney has hit left-handed pitchers at a career .248 average heading into his Rays tenure. This season after Loney’s impressive outing against southpaw pitching during 3 starts against Toronto (May 6-9th) at the Trop produced a stellar 10-19 (.526) showcase. But the cherry on top of this is the fact during 2013 Loney has only struck out 11 times so far in 116 plate appearances which leads all MLB 1B qualifiers and had a streak of 39 at bats without a whiff this season.

Loney is definitely the silent avenger the Rays needed at First Base and has more than proven his worth.

Happ..Happ..Happy He is Okay

Desmond Jennings

Toronto Blue Jays Pitcher J A Happ is one lucky guy. Considering the sound I heard the moment the ball struck him on the left side of his face, just a hair to the outside of his orbital socket, he is lucky to be standing now much less have his facilities intact.

J.A. HappSure the ball’s stitches caused a bit of bloody damage as it ricocheted off his ear and then down the First Base line towards the Rays Bullpen, when he went down into a lump in front of the pitcher’s mound, you had a assume the worst because of the sound the ball produced as it made contact with Happ. I watched the video of the event a few hours later and saw Happ try and make a valiant attempt to spear the ball, but he was both a few inches shy, and a few nanoseconds too late.

It also reminded me of the video from late in 2012 of then Oakland A’s starter Brandon McCarthy getting plucked by a batted ball in which he suffered some concussion related symptoms and missed some valuable time during the last month of the season. Twice now we have seen events that not only shocked the audience in attendance, but also left those watching on the television or the radio in a state of limbo as to the condition and injury status of a pitcher who did not have ample time to assimilate or react to a ball coming back at him at maximum velocity, definitely faster than it got to the plate.

J.A. HappThe Happ incident will again bring out a few critics who debated the merits of a supported cap or quasi-batting helmet design to protect the skull and side temples of pitchers from just such a ball bouncing off their noggin. In Happ’s case, this would not have been an effective deterrent, and might have even made the situation worse if the ball had caught the underneath of such a cap and bounced down towards his eye socket region.

Then there is that mode of thought of possibly moving the current pitcher’s mound back from its present 60 ft 6 inches to possibly 70 inches to give a little extra reaction time in just such an event as a batted ball coming in at full velocity at a pitcher’s head or other regions. Sure both suggestions have merit, but are they the answer or just a solution to a problem that will be debated and talked about every time a hurler gets plucked by either a broken bat or a batted ball.

Desmond JenningsLast night I do not think a mound 10 feet backwards would of made a huge difference as Happ might not have had adequate time to react to attempt to either spear the ball, or duck and cover. The great part is Happ received care immediately and if you look at the photo of Tampa Bay Rays Desmond Jennings a few moments after he struck the ball and before he began to run the bases, he immediately knew it was a severe moment and one that might haunt him for a few contests.

BMcCMcCarthy who now plays for the Arizona Diamondbacks was also on the hill last night going against the Los Angeles Dodgers hours after Happ’s injury and I wonder if his own event flashed back through his mind before he hit the hill for his late night start. Pitchers’ all know the inherent threat of balls coming back at over 100 mph at them glancing off body parts or taking shots to their body that will leave more than physical marks. One of the best moments of last night was as Happ was being wheeled out the Rays Home Plate opening he did a small wave to the assembled crowd in that area showing he was awake.

J.A. HappBut it was a moment where the entire crowd within the Trop., plus the entire viewing audience was hoping and praying was not a moment that would produce a substantial injury or worse.

I think we will hear a few debates and proposed moves or solutions to this every happening again, but in the end it is a part of the game, something every hurler knows could happen at any given moment and with each swing of the bat. Happ got his medical clearance today from Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Florida and should be on the Jays dugout rail or possibly sitting deep in the dugout away from any stray baseballs.

It is just great both Rays and Jays fans can be Happ…Happ..Happy today knowing J A will be working through his injuries with courage after knowing he danced with the Devil a bit last night and lived to speak about it. 

I Finally Forgave Vinny on Cinco de Mayo

Vinny Castilla

When former Major League Baseball star (?) Vinny Castilla came out to the mound yesterday to throw out the First Pitch accompanied by his 2 sons here at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado, I was not sure how I was going to react. As a failed asset of the old Rays “Hit Show” promotion, I still had some bitterness towards the way he ended his Tampa Bay Rays playing venture as well as some of the comments I heard personally outside the hallowed Trop. walls. Oh how I had held that burning aggression and brewing displeasure for Vinny within my gut for the last 12-odd years.

1482452_jpg_3587_0_display_imageI had talked over the last 2 days here in Colorado about Castilla to fellow baseball fans wearing the black and purple accents of the hometown Rockies. It almost seemed like Castilla was a different person in St. Petersburg, almost like the devil might have ripped out his baseball soul while wearing the D-Rays colors and inserted some demonic servant to do his bidding while manning Third Base for the team.

I was told about his charity efforts, how he embraced the Rockies fans and their culture and was a model teammate when he wore the Colorado colors. This confused me as it was so different from his D-Rays persona, as if he was more eager to leave the ballpark then stroll into it on game days. MY icy demeanor about Castilla was beginning to slowly melt away as I saw a different person described to me, almost like someone I could of admired and respected for his play on the field.

3426633817_16af4fa5d6_zI was truly perplexed, not knowing either to stand and clap or sit and just ignore the player who I personally felt “gave up” on his D-Rays teammates and who’s own comments definitely divided himself from his peers. It seemed to me that Castilla had a complete 180 degree difference in personality and playing style high above the desert plains here at Coors Field.

I was completely in flux as to what I wanted to do having still deep seeded feelings about Castilla, but felt each player deserved his time in the Sun both during and after his career, so I stood along with the other 39,220 souls who knew Castilla from his true “Hit Show” days as a Rockies player. I was beginning to see that “Tampa Bay” might have been a bad chapter in the life story of Castilla with downfalls and strife I could only imagine.

050909132214Castilla may not have made a lot of positive memories for me inside the Trop., except for his blast into the old TBT Deck, but the man had history and was almost a cult hero here in Denver. Maybe in my old age I grew up a bit more here in the cheaps seats knowing you can not hold grasps of negative moments against a person as we all are constantly evolving and changing especially as people. I can say today I was proud to clap for him today as he beamed from ear-to-ear with a smile I did not regularly see during his Rays times.

With each clap I seemed to also lose a bit of the resentment and hostile sealed up emotions I held deep in my Rays soul for a guy I felt let his team down. I can say the crowd showing their love and respect for Castilla both in their comments earlier and their loud ovation made me change my stance about Castilla.

Lilvinnyskyline_v1gme7czMaybe the moment that truly clarified I should forgive and forget Castilla’s Rays past was when I met a young Rockies fan who cheered, shouted and was truly a 1-man cheering section for the Rockies that day. He wore a Castilla black T-shirt with white numbers and when I asked him if he ever saw Castilla play he responded, “No, I was too young to see his Home Runs”. Without thought, I reached into my camera bag and pulled out my (lil) Vinny bobblehead and thrust it into the young guy’s glove.

It was the right thing to do, true fan-dom should be rewarded, and with that gesture I also forgave Vinny for his past Rays ways. 

Even MLB Fans Could Mask a Drug Test

 

Future-Drug-Testing-in-MLB

Take you or I, trying to do our best at our job and we get a bit of insomnia, possibly want to rid ourself of some water weight or even grow some hair where it is thinning or showing trails of age. Those are everyday problems that plague some of us male baseball fans, but did you know those same medications can help mask steroids or keep any of us from producing a positive MLB drug test.

ytjtyjtfcjjEach of the usually prescribed medications for those 3 situations could be blockers or masking agents to help you not test positive in a MLB drug test. That’s right, some of our own personal every day medications we as fans are prescribed or receive over-the-counter with or without a doctor’s script could make anyone of us potentially become invisible if we were to take a MiLB or MLB mandatory drug test.

With so many knock-offs of well-known medications, or off-brands on store shelves and register counter-tops, you could purchase a single medicine that could effectively help keep you from triggering a positive test without you honestly knowing the “banned” substance or potential masking agent was inside your purchase.

And to make matters worse, some National chains, on-line mail order houses and vitamin warehouses that can supply have supplements also contain borderline or active substances that would help you mask a positive result, and their products inert properties can sometimes takes days or week to leave the body heightening your time span to post good results.

The reality is that most of us, on a daily basis take medication or use medicines that can mask any form of a positive MLB mandated drug test. We all know the high paced culture of life today doesn’t mandate any form of abstinence from our daily needed products, or warns us of their extraordinary properties.

mlb_logo_syringeHow many of us have truly read through any of those medicine pamphlets our pharmacists gives us we get a new medication? I know I usually only read the dosage and the possible side effects section then chuck it into the trash can. A majority of the drugs I will mention today can be obtained via a doctor’s script at any pharmacies throughout the world, and are especially easy to obtain on-line….for a price.

If these drugs were prescribed to you personally and you discovered their innate athletic performance advantages, would you still use them?

I am not implying here that you or anyone within the MiLB or MLB would use a scientific loophole provided by an over-the-counter medication to get an advantage, but if it can help give you an extra zip or punch without causing a bevy of red flags in a possible urine or blood tests, would you use it?

Let’s dive right into this hidden OTC medicine that might be hiding in your own home’s bathroom cabinet.

thCAVYXJYHThe first one up is the literally hair raising drug known as Finasteride or known by its brand name Propecia. Testosterone has a vital part in helping the body produce muscle mass, and this pill actually helps the body produce an enzyme that converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

The pill is commonly used as a treatment for prostate cancer but has a hidden medical kicker of helping eliminate hair loss and start new hair growth. But Propecia also contains a chemical that can be used to mask the use and effects of anabolic steroids in the body because of the overproduction of DHT.

For some reason, this medication was removed from the World Doping Agency list in 2009 and is not considered a banned substance anymore. Curious? Or does that explain why most Olympic athletes have a fine head of hair?

thCA5C2IWIThe second medicine under the heat lamp is Sidenafil Citrate or better known as Viagra. Most men might use this mentioned medicine to help the ill effects of certain body function which helps dilate the body’s blood vessels to expand and take in more oxygen and rid the muscles of dangerous toxins.

Viagra is really helpful in participating in games at higher elevations as it will dilate the blood vessels for the duration of the drug and make it easier for the body to adjust to the higher altitudes and the decrease oxygen intake associated with these altitudes. It can give a short term advantage to athletes playing games in the Mountain time zone, then resort back to their normal breathing habits after the pill is gone from their system. I think we can almost rename this medication the Colorado Cocktail, or am I being too glib.

thCAIZ7B9XThe third drug I will expose/introduce today was developed to help the aging male population find relief from the ill effects of male pattern baldness. This drug also has been known to hide traces of steroids by masking the symptoms within it’s own chemical molecular bonds. Minoxidil or better known as Rogaine, is one of those drugs that is available right on our grocer’s shelf, and can be purchased with total anonymity.

Rogaine was first developed as a potential cure for hypertension, but its side advantages came to light when suffers began to see renewed growth in their hair follicles. It is important here to note that a common side effect of steroid use is hypertension, or a renewed state of anxiousness.

So it is easy to imagine that Rogaine can be used as a chemical mask to offset the hypertension as well as keep the hair follicles intact on the user during the duration of using the medication. This is also a drug that can be used in plain sight within any MLB Clubhouse and most people around you will not give it a second thought.

thCAR73OMINow onto a medication that was initially developed to help combat weight loss without throwing your body into a severe crash diet scenario. This Drug is Liothronine also known as Cytomel. The medication is a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone needed by the body to controls our metabolism. Cytomel can be used by a sly trainer/user to get fast results via a six-week cycle to help get body fat down quicker.

It also helps its regain muscle mass so they can effectively hide any transformation by not gaining excess or bulky weight distinguished by an adverse gain in size and weight. This drug has also been known to be mixed with HGH as a cocktail to help induce massive changes within a small period of time. This medication can also be taken before a game to bring about a instant rush of energy without the side effects of a positive drug test.

thCAIVJ8TVAnd last, but not least today will be the medication Dutasteride or better known as Avodart. This is a true masking agent because it is highly effective in hiding some of the side effects of using anabolic steroids like the unsightly bacne. This medication can be taken in a cocktail also with Propecia which helps regulate the production of DHT, which is the main contributor to the formation of bacne.

Avodart acts as a masking agent to dilute the DHT enzyme and creates a buffer to eliminate this tell-tale sign of steroid usage or coming off a steroid cycle. But this is also two-fold as the medication also has a nice side effect of making certain body parts, well shrink in transition to its usage. And because of that, it can give a secondary sight recognition to the possible steroid usage.

thCALLQF80But there are also other medicines that are used by drug/steroid users to mask intent like Methylphenidate or Ritalin, which gives the user more focus and puts them “in-the-zone” quicker. It was amazing the when MLB banned the stimulant in 2006, the MLB’s drug exemption paperwork for usage therapeutically skyrocketed among players.

I did not post this to have people second guess or even try and investigate any MiLB or MLB player’s medicine cabinet, then announce its content to the World. I wanted to show that even a person outside the game of baseball can effectively hide or even produce a positive MLB drug test without actively knowing it. I know I do not have to worry about failing a MLB drug test, but would some of you have cause to worry?

 

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